Districts of all sizes rely on numerous communication avenues to reach families, including email newsletters, text notifications, website alerts, the website in general, and of course, social media. Social media has quickly earned itself at the top of the list for necessary communication tools for both its simple user interface and ability to reach target audiences where they spend their time.
In this blog, we dive into numerous best practices and strategies for each social network that districts can implement to improve their school-to-home communications.
Using Social Media for District Communications
It's 2018, so your district most likely already has some type of social media presence. However, there are a few key strategic considerations to take into account whether you are just getting started, or you're looking to improve your social media presence including:
- The purpose of your social media presence: Is your goal marketing and branding, or school-to-home communications? Or is it a hybrid of both? This will determine which social media networks you use, and how to use them. (We give some best practices in the next section!) In most cases, districts should use Instagram and Facebook for marketing, while Twitter is great for day-to-day communications.
- How many social media accounts you need: Many districts run into the issue of having dozens of social media accounts due to different athletic teams and schools. A common best practice is to have one Facebook page for your District to relay the best of the best content from all of your sources. Facebook's algorithms are the most complex, and you want to do your best to not divide any traffic or reach. Likewise, we recommend sticking to one district-wide Instagram as you want to put your best foot forward district-wide on this visually-driven platform. However, on Twitter, it is common for districts to have multiple accounts for different athletic teams or even schools. If you choose to do this, you will want to be sure you come up with a list of standards for that account to ensure they are on brand and come up with a plan for consolidating the messaging of these accounts into a single location.
- Which social networks you want to use: Good news — you don't have to be on every social network. While most districts opt for the "big three" (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), if you find a different combination that works great for your community, then stick to it!
- Who will be your social media managers: In most cases, you don't want just anyone running your social media accounts, as they are your social voice. Be sure you have determined who runs each social media account, rather than letting it be a free for all.
- What your brand standards are: What will your profile picture be? How often do you change your header photo? What are your hashtags. Set some standards upfront so that your social media presence across all your networks is unified. For hashtags, try creating 1-3 branded hashtags for you and your community to use. These provide you with a way to organize content on social media and crowdsource content.
How to Effectively Use Each Social Network
Each social network has a purpose, as well as a type of content that performs the best. For example, Instagram is the ideal platform for sharing high quality photos, while Twitter is great for up-to-the-minute updates.
It's important to note that the same content and text should be optimized for each network, which means you don't automatically post the same content to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at the same time. As a matter-of-fact, some content that belongs on Twitter, may not even have a place on Facebook, and vice-versa due to the content itself, the length of the content, or the number of hashtags used.
Here's an easy way to think about how best to use each social network for your district's communications:
Twitter: The Newsroom
Twitter's fast-paced nature with short-snippets of content make it ideal for sharing news, updates, and athletics play-by-plays. For districts, Twitter is a great place to share important updates that happen on the fly. Because of its news-like nature, announcements and updates are generally engaged with on Twitter, versus Facebook or Instagram.
Content that performs well on Twitter includes:
- A teaser of a news story, with a photo, and link back to your website
- Tagging and re-tweeting other individuals
- A simple photo with hashtags or links back to your website
- Livestream video
- Athletics updates
- Important school-to-home communications/updates
This tweet from Lake Washington School District is a great example of how to use Twitter — the content is short, it uses tagged accounts and hashtags, a link back to their website, and a photo. Perfect!
Instagram: The Storefront
Instagram is completely visual-driven — meaning photos and video. And preferably, high quality photos and videos. Instagram provides your district the opportunity to showcase the best visual content your district has to offer.
Content that performs well on Instagram includes:
- High quality images
- Branded graphics that include text
- Video clips
- "Stories" - These are short, 15-second photo or video clips that disappear after 24 hours and are viewed by clicking your Instagram profile picture. In most cases, "Stories" have higher engagement than posts because of their location in the Instagram feed. Within stories you can create polls, use GIFs, and even go live.
One thing that is important to remember about Instagram is that you cannot link to your website or other external sites within a post. With Instagram, you'll want to ensure the content you post does not need to be redirected back to your website or another resource.
Facebook: The Watercooler
Facebook has tremendously evolved over the past decade, and often leaves marketers confused on how to use the platform. Unfortunately, Facebook has evolved mostly into a pay-to-play platform — meaning, if you want your content to be seen by your target audiences, you most likely need an ad budget. Because Facebook's most recent algorithm favors family, friend, and group posts, earning comments, likes and shares on your posts can help your content reach more audiences without an ad budget.
Content that performs well on Facebook includes:
- Live video — this is Facebook's preferred forms of content
- Stories — like Instagram, Facebook has stories. You can also directly post your Instagram story to your Facebook story.
- Faculty profiles
- Student spotlights
- News on prestigious and accomplished alumni
- News on district accomplishments
- Regular video
In general, posts about accomplishments — be it of current or former students — always rake in likes, and are good for promoting your district's brand. They most often get the most likes, comments and shares, which can dramatically increase your district's organic reach.
What about Snapchat?
While Snapchat is extremely popular among teenagers, most schools don't use the controversial app because it requires a completely different strategy than the "big three" and also poses security concerns. For more information on Snapchat, check out our two popular blog posts:
How Often to Post on Each Social Network
"There's a method to my madness," is how I like to think about social media strategy — posting frequency in particular. Here are some general guidelines for optimizing engagement based on frequency of posts:
Twitter: Because Twitter is great for up-to-the-minute updates, a district can post as many as 10 times per day without seeing a drop off in engagement. However, live-tweeting during a sporting event may result in dozens of tweets, and that's OK too!
Instagram: Set a goal of posting one picture per day. As a district, you have hundreds of capable constituents who can share photo and video content with you. Your job is to find the right time to post it!
Facebook: Although Facebook's organic engagement rates continue to drop, how often you post does play a role in your ability to reach your target audiences. Shoot for at least one post per day if possible.
If you're following these standards and you're still not getting the engagement you want, request a social media audit and meet with one of our social media specialists to learn what you can do to improve.
Engaging With Your Followers: Why it Matters and How to Do It
Social media should not be used as a megaphone, with the sole intent to broadcast your news and announcements. Rather, the platform is intended to be social — meaning two-way conversations are absolutely essential to your district's success. Engaging with your followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram not only propels your organic reach, but also encourages your community to like, comment, and share in the future.
District parents and students like knowing that there is a human behind social media that cares about them and can answer their questions. When you turn your social media platform into an open forum, your community will in turn use it, to communicate with you. No other communications tool provides this kind of two-way communication, and it is proven to improve your overall communications and the happiness of your community.
Let's quickly dive into a few best practices for engagement, as they slightly differ on each network.
Twitter: Engagement on Twitter comes in the form of likes, replies, tags, and retweets. On Twitter, if someone replies to a tweet and asks a question, it is appropriate to reply in return. For example, in this tweet from Franklin Public School's lacrosse team, the players are tagged, and the district re-tweeted. Your community — especially students — loves being tagged and shown appreciation!
Instagram: Engagement on Instagram comes in the forms of likes, comments and tags. You can "like" comments, or reply to them.
Facebook: Engagement on Facebook comes in the form of likes, comments, shares, tags, and "reactions." Facebook provides the best popular platform for conversations among you and your community. In almost all cases, replying to a comment will earn you major kudos. Just look at this example from Clarkston Community Schools:
For all social media engagement, you should clearly define what is "appropriate" engagement — such as whether or not you will tag students or parents in post, how soon to expect a reply, and what photos are appropriate.
Using Hashtag to Organize and Brand Communications
Hashtags are an excellent way to organize content, crowdsource content, and get your content seen by new audiences. For example, your district could create a hashtag such as "#LMSDUpdates," which could be used every time there is an important update at your school. Because hashtags can be used across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, this helps you group like content and improve school-to-home communications. It is also important to avoid vague hashtags like #soccer or #swimming, as your post will most likely get lost in a sea of sometimes irrelevant content.
How many hashtags should you use? It varies based on each network.
Twitter: Although Twitter is the birthplace of the hashtag, stick to three or less hashtags per tweet.
Instagram: Instagram is the platform to go wild with hashtags. 13+ increases your chance of engagement, and more importantly, new engagement from new followers. You can also use 1-2 hashtags in your Instagram story to broaden reach.
Facebook: Facebook doesn't love hashtags like Instagram and Twitter. Only use 1-2 hashtags per post, and only if they are essential for communications and organization. If your content doesn't need a hashtag, don't feel forced to use one.
Free Resource: Hashtag Cheat Sheet
How to Crowdsource Content
Crowdsourcing content means gathering content from your community. This method saves time and provides your communications team with an authentic look at life at the district, which in turn, improves your marketing.
Crowdsourcing content can be done in a few different ways.
First, you can use your branded hashtags. Encourage your community to use your district's branded hashtag by running a contest, and including it in your standard communications, like e-newsletters. This is applicable for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Second, you can use the "posts by location" filter on Instagram. Using this feature, you can see which photos have been tagged at locations across your district. (This feature is only available on Instagram.)
In both of the cases listed above, your constituents' profiles need to be public in order to see their posts. It is important that you always ask if you can re-post or share a photo before doing so!
If you find that the majority of your community members have private profiles or don't use your hashtag, enlisting a group of social media ambassadors or a small student social media team, can help you get the photos and content you need without needing to fish for it.
Tying Social Media into Your Website
If your district actively uses social media, it is important to tie that content back into your website — especially if you're using multiple different accounts across multiple networks. For example, Ellington Public Schools doesn't have a main district Twitter account, but rather, have nearly 100% teacher buy-in to tweet classroom updates throughout the day. These updates are automatically pulled into their website using Finalsite Feeds — our social media moderation and aggregation software. With Feeds, you can moderate posts to ensure only on-brand content makes it to your website, and pull in nearly unlimited posts across all your social networks into one, beautiful interface.
Does your district need help with its social media strategy?
Finalsite has numerous opportunities and free resources to help your district achieve its social media goals, including:
- Social Media Audit
- Social Media Marketing Services
- Social Media Planning with Finalsite Advantage
- Free Social Media Resource Library
If you have specific questions about social media that were not answered in this post, email the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, and Marketing Manager for Public Schools, Mia creates content that is helpful to public schools and districts. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.